It is no surprise, then, that there was a sense of déjà vu when we rounded a curve alongside the Mississippi river and someone said, “There’s the temple!” The Nauvoo Temple: standing tall once again on a hill overlooking that great bend of the river where the original had always remained in paintings and dreams. Its majesty grew as we neared Nauvoo until, as the bus entered the streets of the old part of the city, we looked up to see it dominate the view—the same way our forefathers must have seen it in 1845.
I have to admit that after having heard so many amazing stories about past temple dedications, I wondered if something special might happen. I thought back to one of my ancestors who wrote that she had heard the voices of a heavenly choir at the dedication of the Manti Temple. I also thought about the meeting in Nauvoo after the death of the prophet Joseph, when Brigham Young spoke to the people and many said he seemed to take on Joseph’s appearance and manner of speech.
As we took our places at that first dedicatory session I had the feeling that everything in the room was spiritually connected. This feeling remained throughout the service. The best I can come up with to describe it is that the space seemed filled with a tangible substance; like still water, only much lighter and purer, and crystal clear. It seemed to wrap me like a warm blanket. Singing in that atmosphere felt transcendent. I hope that we were able to give voice to the unity and joy in that room – to translate in sound what we felt in spirit and thereby make the experience more complete. It felt like that was what happened, and even more so when all joined in singing, “The Spirit of God” at the end of the “Hosanna Anthem.”
To walk out of the temple with that spiritual feeling; to see the smiles of those standing outside; to look to the west and see an orange sun fading into the haze over the Mississippi river; and then to turn around and look up at the tower of the temple, was an experience I will never forget. I remember remarking, “I still can’t believe it’s back!” In the days that followed I heard repeated comments about the wonderful spiritual feelings the other choirs experienced in their sessions.
But though the feelings of the spirit were very strong and it did feel like unseen visitors were close at hand, I cannot say that I experienced anything that might be termed miraculous at the dedication of the Nauvoo Temple. Do such experiences still happen? Were the ones that have been described in the past real?
Shortly after our return a good friend in the Choir related to me privately an experience that was very similar to the reports of the transfiguration of Brigham Young mentioned earlier. It was a sacred, personal gift of special meaning to him. He has only shared it with closest friends and family and so it would inappropriate for me to share more detail. But I trust him very much; he is highly educated and not the type of person to make something up. And so I can witness that while critics have been skeptical of such incidents, they do happen in our day. And I have no doubt that they also happened as they were described in the past. Surely such experiences are granted not only for those who are blessed to receive them but for those of us who are willing to take them at their word and rejoice in the gifts of our Heavenly Father!
3. The American Choral Directors Association National Convention
Life is filled with challenges. New ones arise all the time. Each test provides opportunity for growth as we learn new things and reach within to gather strength. Our faith grows as we seek and receive help from our Heavenly Father. But not all challenges are equal. From time to time something comes along that requires unusual effort, a special resolve, and a stretch of our talents and abilities.
For the Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square, the invitation to sing at the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) convention held in Los Angeles, California in February of 2005 was just such an occasion. Craig Jessop and Mack Wilberg, our directors at the time, were always intent upon refining every detail of our performances, but as they prepared us for this one, the level of expectation soared to unprecedented heights. Never had they been so unrelenting; stopping every time there was the slightest problem with pitch, notes, rhythm or diction. Passages were repeated seemingly without end, pausing each time to analyze problems and try again until they were done perfectly.
But even more than this, Brother Jessop emphasized the importance of sharing our spiritual feelings. We needed to transcend music, keeping a prayer in our hearts that we might radiate the real motivation that underlies our singing. He gave us much to ponder when he said, “If we put music on the altar and worship it, we fail. That’s not what we’re about. If music becomes the medium–the way we express our faith–then it succeeds.”
There were three performances: two in the beautiful Walt Disney Hall and one at a nearby house of worship—the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels. Disney Hall was certainly the equal or better of any concert hall in which we had ever performed. From the first notes, we could tell we were going to love it.
As we entered for the first evening performance it was thrilling to see it filled with eager concert-goers. The term cognoscenti refers to those who are especially knowledgeable about a subject, and herewas an audience filled with thecognoscenti of the choral world. However, the term can also take on an aristocratic connotation—a bit highbrow and stuffy—and given the prior buildup we had received I had expected the audience would be reserved and critical. But those words had no place in Disney Hall that night. Had our performances not lived up to our reputation our listeners’ enthusiasm would undoubtedly have cooled quickly. However, our careful musical and spiritual preparation made for a performance that was, as had been hoped, transcendent.
We sang with a single voice and with great power. As we intoned the soft, sweet pieces such as “Glory to God in the Highest” from Rachmaninoff’sAll Night Vigil and our carefully prepared “How Can I Keep from Singing?”(arranged by Brother Wilberg) I was reminded of the feelings I had when we sang at the dedication of the Nauvoo Temple. If we were feeling such things, would the audience feel them, too?
The responses at all three concerts were no less than fully ecstatic; each performance surely being up to the highest standards the Choir has ever achieved. The large chamber of the Cathedral was a challenging place to sing but the pews were packed, with many having to stand. Throughout the concert and afterwards we saw many tears and knew that we had touched many hearts.
By the final concert at Disney Hall we were exhausted and yet that seemed to be the best performance of all.